If you have seen me, there is a good you have probably heard me say over my 100th cup of coffee that day: “setting boundaries doesn’t always feel good, easy or normal.”
As people, we are wired to connect. We are wired to fall into curtained societal and familial rules- this is for many reasons, but as most human behaviors ( functional and dysfunctional) go, these reasons are centered around us being hardwired for survival.
Our modern day “packs” *fun link to click* are usually made up of our family members, then extend into our social and work circles. As part of this herd survival mentality, we learn to not cause great disruptions- in the wild, animals who are not able to be part of the same grouping tend to be kicked out. In some families, when someone changes a behavior in a dysfunctional pattern, there may be great guilt associated, or concerned they will also be ostracized for going against the group. So what does this mean? We tend to tolerant discomfort, shame, dysfunction and in some cases abuse to quell the deeper fear of rejection.
Why? One of the biggest fears we have as humans is that we are innately unlovable, separating us from bonding and loving. We learn to love through our families- these are the first people we ever build a relationship with and formulate what feels “normal.” Even in recognizing when a family has dysfunctional boundaries or rules, we tend to still push our own feelings aside because of what we fear asserting ourselves can cost us. How many times have you or someone else said in response to dealing with a challenging family member “ I would LOVE to say/do that, but I can’t. They’re family.”
So what qualifies as a healthy family boundaries? It depends on the family, culture, dynamics and safety. There are some overarching “roles” that we can fall into in our families that naturally lend themselves to increasing dysfunction and anxiety. Perhaps it is being the family secrete keeper or the family “scapegoat”- both of these roles can promote anxiety and confusing boundaries for those who fall into these roles. ( Click here for an explanation on family roles). Family roles have a habit to play out in our lives in other areas- if we are the “rescuer” in our family system, we may find ourselves gravitating toward those who may need rescuing in our outside lives because we have been primed and conditioned to function in this role.
When looking to change your boundaries within your family- be it disengaged or overly dependent- it is important to know this isn’t an overnight process, nor an easy one as this tends to go against our emotional code.
As we develop stronger boundaries with our families and environment, we tend to find ourselves happier and more empowered. Informing a family member who is constantly pushing boundaries, “ I love you, but I need to let you know this is making me uncomfortable” can serve to alleviate some of the resentment or discomfort that naturally builds when we passively let unwanted behaviors continue. Boundaries also give those we interact with clearer instructions on how we want to be treated. Setting clear personal boundaries also allows us to be more in tune with our own needs and recognize what does not feel comfortable for us. Once we can understand our own needs then we can trust and assert our boundaries to keep ourselves safe, sane and respected.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: